Let's Make Social Predators Pay Their Victims

DONALD TRUMP made a bizarre suggestion the other day: It was that Mike Tyson, the champion boxer and convicted rapist, be allowed to donate some of his boxing proceeds to the woman he raped in exchange for a lighter sentence. In the Tyson case, public revulsion was swift and this idea is not likely to get very far.

But compensating the victim of a crime, instead of merely punishing the perpetrator, may be an idea whose time has come.

A number of state legislatures have established provision for the victims of violent crimes to extract financial compensation from the criminals who victimized them.

Meanwhile, cigarette companies that promote their products so glamorously are being sued for the resulting ill-health claimed by addicted smokers. (It can only be a matter of time until the first multimillion dollar lawsuits come in from Asia, where American tobacco companies are pushing cigarette smoking - sometimes with the help of the United States government - to replace declining markets at home.)

Now there is another area - pornography - where there is a move to make the authors pay if it can be proved that their product incited crime and abuse. A bill - the pornography victims' compensation bill - is to be debated in the US Senate. It would enable victims of violent sex crimes, if their attackers were incited by obscenity or child pornography, to sue the producers of that pornography for damages.

The bill has raised a clamor from defenders of the First Amendment. But the bill does not seek to bar the right of pornographers to publish. It relates to specifically obscene material and child pornography that the Supreme Court has ruled is not protected by the First Amendment.

The right to publish, and of free speech, is immensely precious. Curb the pornographers, and the David Dukes, and any other unpleasant group, and next it may be a church group, or some eccentric political party, under restriction. But while preserving the pornographers' constitutional rights, the rest of us need not be passive in permitting them to invade our communities.

Citizens' groups have been effective in banning girlie magazines from the local convenience store, where children congregate. Sometimes, store keepers have voluntarily placed such magazines behind the counters, so that they at least must be specifically asked for. Sometimes the magazines' lurid covers are banded with plain wrappers.

None of this prevents people determined to find pornography from getting their hands on it. But the question legislators will be pondering is whether it is reasonable to make the producers of pornography pay the victims, if it can indeed be proved that the pornographers' product incited specific crimes.

This question of free speech versus the rights of citizens to resist what they perceive to be the dissemination of deviance-promoting material is an extraordinarily difficult one to resolve in a free society. But in American society, the producers of our movies, our books, our modern music and our television content seem intent on pushing to the outer limits our tolerance of the obscene and the decadent.

For instance, Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival in Utah has traditionally been the showcase for up-and-coming independent filmmakers. This year, as Newsweek's David Ansen, a juror at the festival, remarked, the submissions were "charged with dread, violence, sexuality." Some of the films were so sexually macabre that they cannot be described here.

What can individual citizens in disagreement do? There is the power of the pocket book. They can withhold patronage at the box office, or the bookstore. They can turn off the dirty lyrics on the radio, turn off the offending show on TV, and let the stations and sponsors know why they did it. They can support citizen lobbying efforts to keep pornography out of their communities. But if the producers of our "culture" keep reaching beyond reasonably acceptable limits, they are going to provoke more drastic countermeasures.

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